James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The United States Air Force Celebrates Its 66th Birthday Today

by James M. Lindsay
September 18, 2013

The Thunderbirds fly past as graduates celebrate at the Air Force Academy commencement ceremony in Colorado Springs (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters). The Thunderbirds fly past as graduates celebrate at the Air Force Academy commencement ceremony in Colorado Springs (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).

The United States Air Force (USAF) turns 66 years-old today. On September 18, 1947, Chief Justice Fred Vinson swore in Stuart Symington as the first secretary of the Air Force, officially founding a new branch of the U.S. military. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz became the USAF’s first chief of staff eight days later on September 26, 1947.

The origins of the USAF lie in a decision made just four years after the Wright Brothers conducted the world’s first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps created an Aeronautical Division and put it in “charge of all matters pertaining to military ballooning, air machines and all kindred subjects.” As aviation technology improved, the army’s air force grew bigger. An independent military arm became virtually inevitable after the Army Air Forces became an autonomous U.S. Army Command in 1942 and then grew substantially throughout the remainder of World War II. On July 26, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 on board the presidential aircraft, the Sacred Cow, and set the creation of the USAF in motion.

Col. Robert Spalding, an air force officer spending a year as a visiting military fellow in CFR’s David Rockefeller Studies Program, kindly responded to my request for a recommendation on what people who want to know more about the history of the USAF should read. He suggested A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events that Shaped the Development of U.S. Air Power by Dewitt S. Copp. You can learn more about the history of the USAF online through the Air Force Historical Studies Office.

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Walsh III, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody have their annual birthday message to the Airmen of the United States Air Force.

A tip of the TWE cap to all the airmen and airwomen who have worn the uniform of the USAF.

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